The purpose of this Lenten Season, dear brethren, is nothing else than to increase our interior life, which is, according to Father Garrigou Lagrange, the knowledge of the truth and the love of good, or if you like, the knowledge and the love of God, who is the supreme Truth and the supreme Good. The interior life is also the knowledge and the love of anything true and good that proceeds from God. We already see, from this definition, that the interior life cannot germinate, develop, and blossom without faith and charity. It is by faith that we love the truth, and by charity that we love the good. Therefore, anyone who hears the word of God, and who wants to answer His call to holiness, will have to work on both virtues, which are distinct, but should not be separated.
As a matter of fact, as much as we progress in the spiritual life, we are more and more united with God, but we also are more and more united with ourselves. Original sin first, and then our personal sins, have dislocated us, and unless we work diligently toward rebuilding ourselves, there always remains certain anarchy within us. By seeking union with God, we seek to restore His image in us. We polish the mirror of our intelligence in order to find in it the undistorted reflection of the eternal truths.
Jesus has compared the Kingdom of God to a seed that grows and becomes a high tree. This comparison applies to the interior life, which is the Kingdom of God in a soul. The growth of our spiritual tree supposes three stages that are necessary. First, it has to come to life, to germinate. This is the first conversion, the one that we call justification, when a soul passes from the state of sin to the state of grace. The second stage is when the tree develops and becomes visible. “It is a state of life,” as Father Garrigou Lagrange says, “when we begin seriously to surpass ourselves, and when we begin to relate everything to God and not to ourselves. It is the admission into the reign of God, where a docile soul begins to reign with Him over its passions, over the spirit of the world, and over the spirit of evil.” Let us note, dear brethren, that at this stage, it is still only a beginning. The third stage is finally when the tree blossoms and when we can see its fruits and flowers. This is when a soul has no other desires other than pleasing God in everything, existing in a perfect union with God, reigning over its passions and faculties.
We said last week that the laws of spiritual life are the same for everybody. We can see in the New Testament the progress, and sometimes the decline, of the interior lives of the Apostles. Bossuet invited us last Sunday to consider three different spiritual states in the Apostles since their vocations began, which was precisely their first conversion. Their second conversion certainly happened during the Passion of the Savior. At least it appears to be the case for Saint Peter, when after having denied Him, Jesus looked upon him. “Peter, going out, wept bitterly,” Saint Luke reports. That look of Jesus, accompanied with His grace, moved the heart of Peter, and his contrition was the principle of a new life, though his faith was not yet definitively and strongly established. The grace of the Resurrection, and finally of Pentecost, will achieve and complete the renovation of the new man within each of the Apostles, with the notorious exception of Judas, whose example should always remain in our memory. If such a man, one of the Twelve who had received so many graces, who lived in the intimacy of Jesus for three years, who had been a privileged witness of the miracles and all the deeds of the Savior, and a close listener of His magnificent doctrine, could fall, and who most certainly damned himself, why should I be so sure that I will persevere in the service of God? It is not rare to see Christians who boast in knowing the truth! Did not Judas know it better than all of these, he who was a close friend of the Incarnate Truth?
But let us return to the Apostles, and to their lack of understanding of the words of Jesus. Haste and rashness of mind explain the lack of understanding of God’s mysterious intentions. Another reason is certainly the great difficulty we have in accepting the Cross. The Lord is our God and our Redeemer. For those who have faith, this is not hard to believe. We admire Jesus Christ for His celestial doctrine, for His great authority when He teaches: “Never did man speak like this man.” (John 7:46) We admire Jesus Christ for His miracles, but when He speaks about His Passion, the spirit of darkness comes again to envelop our minds.
Jesus Christ does not redeem us by showing His divinity and performing powerful miracles, but by demeaning Himself and suffering like the least of men. And what does He want us to remember and to consider? After He rebukes an evil spirit from a boy, the crowd marveled at His power. And what did He say? “Lay you up in your hearts these words, for it shall come to pass that the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.” (Luke 9:44)
As Bossuet explains, the Lord asks the disciples to lay these words in their hearts, because it is an incomprehensible thing to the spirit, especially when our minds are too preoccupied with the things of the world, as it is usually the case. Again, faith is not only a matter of intelligence, but is also a matter of the heart. “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.”
Faith cannot grow in a corrupted soul; we have already explained this. Vices and sins are the greatest obstacles to the understanding of God’s mysteries, but there are still other stains of the mind that we need to remove, which are the prejudices and preoccupations of the world. Therefore, it is necessary to come in front of God with a spirit totally dispossessed of itself and free, which is, dear brethren – let us admit it – something rare.
A prejudice is something that has already been judged utilizing a lack of knowledge and of wisdom, because of an element of narrow-mindedness, and/or certain habits, individual and/or social. It is the judgment of people who have no other rule than the rule itself, which has too often been established by their own opinion and authority. They judge and condemn out of hand anything and anyone that does not fit their personal and social straitjacket, and they usually induce others to accept their own standards.
If the Apostles tried to do so toward Jesus Himself, it is, after all, not surprising to see among ourselves people who act this way toward others. With Bossuet, we denounce this “rigorous censorship that we exercise over our brothers" and which “is an insolent enterprise toward the rights of God and against public liberty.” Judgment belongs to God only, and he who judges his brother is guilty of disobedience toward God, and guilty of making himself superior to his equal and equal to his superior.
If you look at your neighbor as if he were an incurable sick person, if you move away from him because he is, in your opinion, an incorrigible sinner, you offend God, Saint Augustine explains. You are like the Pharisee of the Gospel who condemns the adulterous woman, and who comes to the Lord with his rule: “Moses, in the law, commanded us to stone such a one.” Like him, you say, or think, “If you knew who this woman is.” Does Jesus condemn her? Does he scrupulously and literally follow the rule? Not only does He forgive her, but He also exposes the hypocrisy of her detractors: “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
Would you say that you do not hear these words, brethren? Of course you hear them, and yet you still judge your neighbor! Are you so ignorant of your own sins that you dare to expose the sins of others? If it is the case, remember that God’s justice will be as rigorous as yours. I beg you to lay up in your heart the words of Saint Paul: “For wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself.” (Rom 2:1)
Let us go further. From where does our inclination to passing judgment come? Man is definitively curious, Bossuet says again. “Everyone wants to see what is hidden, and wants to judge the intentions. This curiosity makes us infer what we cannot see, and since no one likes to be wrong, suspicion quickly becomes certitude. Then we call conviction what is only speculation. And this is an invention of our mind” that we like, and in which we please ourselves. Don’t you see that this is the true scandal, and that this scandal comes only from your own imagination and your own misunderstanding?
Prejudices, dear brethren, lead us away from Jesus and His Cross. Because of them, we crucify our neighbor instead of being crucified. They prevent us of hearing the words of God and putting them into practice. And the worst is that because of our prejudices, we may think that we are just.